IMSI TurboSite for iPad

December 10, 2012 | Comments

By Shaun Bryant

IMSI/Design is one of the pioneers in mobile solutions for the CAD and AEC industry through apps like TurboViewer and TurboReview. The just-released TurboSite ($499 currently) and TurboSite Reader (free) are their newest apps. Both are available for iPad through Apple’s iTunes store, while the Android version is under development.

TurboSite is classed as a mobile solution for field and site surveys, using the tablet as a mobile survey note book that does much, much more. Site visits and surveys normally require a set of plans held down with bricks on the hood of the car to stop them from blowing away, combined with a laptop with numerous batteries to ensure the job gets done, a digital camera (or, if you are like me, remember the days a 35mm film camera was used!), plus numerous other bits of kit.

Traditionally, we collected information on-site using various painstaking (and sometimes totally frustrating) methods. The information was taken back to the office and then the information was then painstakingly re-assembled using numerous tools and programs based in the office. Not anymore, now that TurboSite is here.

TurboSite removes all of the hassle. It uses the extended battery life of the iPad and its other functionality, too. The iPad provides the camera (still and video) and a variety of sensors to locate us in the field and on the drawings displayed by the tablet – all in a device that is smaller, more compact, and more usable than a laptop.

The interface of TurboSite is typical for an iPad app, using the usual touch-screen gestures to control the drawings I open. I found that I could override these gestures in the TurboSite settings, should I need to do so.

Figure 1: The TurboSite user interface on the iPad

Figure 1: The TurboSite user interface on the iPad

The lovely thing about TurboSite is that everything is visual. I see all the command icons on the screen, as well as my drawing. I can measure, red-line, and add dimensions, which are then saved and emailed as red-lined DWG drawing files or as TurboApps files. (TAP is the newly invented TurboApp file format from IMSI/Design that encapsulates other formats; it eliminates the need to Zip together photo, text, voice, and drawing files.)

Talking of DWG, TurboSite is not a CAD package like AutoCAD WS, for example. It was not designed to be one, either. As IMSI/Design CEO Royal Farros explains, “TurboSite is the first true mobile AEC app… a professional building app that can’t be done on a desktop or laptop computer.” I found Mr. Farros was right; I could not do on regular computers what I can do with TurboSite. It is a one-stop shop for all things on-site.

(I should note that products like AutoCAD WS store files in the cloud, which may not be a good fit for those of us who work on-site, due to lack of connectivity to the cloud.)

Figure 2: 2D view in TurboSite with survey dimension (142.00) added

Figure 2: 2D view in TurboSite with survey dimension (142.00) added

I used TurboSite and an iPad (lighter than my laptop) to view building plans as I walked around the site. As I navigated the site, I navigated the drawing at the same time, including all saved views, using the gesture-based interface on the iPad. Then it got really slick: the guys at IMSI/Design patented new technology to make TurboSite the excellent app it is. One of these is GeoWalk, which tracks locations within the structure; another is GeoNudge, which pinpoints exact locations.

The neat thing about GeoWalk is that is does not need a GPS. In fact, it negates the need for GPS, whose satellite signal is typically blocked by steel-framed and concrete structures. Just as likely, the site has no Wi-Fi or a strong-enough cell phone signal. Further, it is not uncommon for many CAD drawings to be not drawn with appropriate geographical location information as part of the design data. TurboSite solves this with GeoWalk.

GeoWalk uses SPS (sensor positioning system, also invented by IMSI/Design) to track progress in real-time through a job site using the iPad’s sensors. This alone saves a lot of time on-site, and could well justify the investment in TurboSite. IMSI/Design believes TurboSite can reduce on-site survey/inspection time by 80%. When I think about this, it may well be feasible. A firm would need to send out only one employee equipped with an iPad; no need for two or three survey staff and all the paraphernalia.

The one staff member completes the inspection and documents everything using the tablet. All of the notes, photographs, video clips, and audio notes are immediately ready for the report, even before the employee gets back to the office. No need to take along a camera; no need to take along a notebook to handwrite notes of locations of photos. And, to top it off, all positions and orientations (north elevation, south elevation, and so on) are recorded by another neat little tool unique to TurboSite called GeoMarks.

GeoMarks records the locations of all photos, movies, and so on that are taken. No need to dig for the picture or file and the corresponding notes that recorded the position and direction.

Figure 3: Using the Views function in TurboSite

Figure 3: Using the Views function in TurboSite

So, that’s the survey bit covered. Normally, after a site visit, I am swamped with notes, photos (or SD cards full of photos), and other extraneous survey items. How does TurboSite handle all of this?

Well, this is where the iPad comes in to its own as the portable survey photographer as well. The iPad has a pretty capable camera for both photos and videos. As I shoot away, the visual “notes” are accurately placed on a new layer over the existing file in TurboSite. In addition, there is the ability to record audio notes as I go; no more hasty scribbles in a survey notebook. Plus, GeoMarks makes sure all of the survey notes and audio are neatly geo-located as well.

Extremely helpful are the tools within TurboSite that allow me to measure dimensions on the drawing and tally those with actual site dimensions.

So, I am done on-site, and ready to head home. I am hours ahead of where I would be using traditional survey methods. I can email the TAP or DWG files ahead to the office, should I have an Internet connection. And I know that the survey information I gathered with TurboSite is immediately available for distribution and viewing by others using the free TurboSite Reader app.

Figure 4: A 3D realistic view in TurboSite

Figure 4: A 3D realistic view in TurboSite


TurboSite is a very capable survey app with many advantages. The downsides I can see would be the initial cost and its adoption.

TurboSite retails at $999 (currently $499), a big outlay for an iPad app. But here’s the kicker: how much did you pay for CAD software way back when? Wasn’t it a great investment at the time? And so TurboSite needs to be viewed in the same way. This app is a paradigm shift in how we perform on-site surveys and inspections. Over time, it will save valuable hours of work time, more than paying for itself. With the introductory price of $499, I am sure it will do well.

The other hurdle is adoption, because the new interface and workflow will take a bit of getting used to by those familiar with their own current system. After a half-day of tinkering with the software on my iPad, I admit I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to use. Those who already are iPad users will find TurboSite a breeze; if not, it’ll take only a few hours to learn the intuitive interface.


TurboSite is the sort of app that will revolutionize the survey industry with its simple but effective interface, and its ability to have everything needed at hand on the iPad. I figure that the IMSI/Design guys really are on to something here.


About the Author


Shaun Bryant is an Autodesk Certified Instructor with sales, support & technical expertise, and CAD managerial skills. Twenty-four years total industry experience using AutoCAD with a skill-set gained whilst working as a consultant, trainer, manager and user. He is also a blogger.


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